Saturday, December 28, 2013

What Oz Gave the Tin Man; What God Gives Us

Been away from the blog for a few weeks…back at it now...

The 1970s rock group America was known for its sometimes cryptic lyrics based on literary references and other musings of songwriter Dewey Bunnell.and his fellow band members.  One of their seminal hits was the song "Tin Man"

The chorus begins with the observation "Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man/ that he didn't, didn't already have."  In the midst of a slightly "trippy" folk-rock song, this couplet may, at first listen, seem to be nonsensical.  But if we think about the source material, the Wizard of Oz (either the L. Frank Baum book or the Judy Garland film, take your pick), we may recognize the meaning hinted at by these words.  At the end of Dorothy and her friends' sojourn in the land of Oz, they learn that the great wizard is nothing more than a "humbug."  And yet, he is nevertheless able to bless the Scarecrow with brains, the Tin Man with a heart, and the Cowardly Lion with courage, simply by showing them that they have already possessed many of the key traits of the items they have sought.  Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn't already have-- if we can excuse the grammar, we'll see that it's true: the Tin Man already had plenty of love, though he lacked an actual heart.

I thought of the song as I thought of this week's parasha, VaEra.  In it, God sends Moses to visit the first of the ten plagues upon Egypt in order to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelite people from bondage.  We might ask, whom do these plagues benefit and/or impress?  Pharaoh?  The Egyptians?  The Israelites?  In fact, throughout the book of Exodus, when we witness God unleashing such displays of Divine power and showmanship, the inevitable question arises: why do we not see such miracles, such overt signs of God's presence, in our own day and age?

I think the answer is similar to the mystery that Dewey Bunnell unfolded in his song.  Just as Oz didn't give the Tin Man or his friends anything that they didn't already possess, so too does God refrain from giving us more than we need (or can handle) in displaying the Divine self within the universe.  The Israelites needed miracles like the parting of the Red Sea or the daily delivery of manna, both for their immediate survival and to assuage souls that had lost hope and suffered greatly during more than 400 years of slavery.  The Egyptian citizenry needed signs and portents like the ten plagues to wean them from the belief that Pharaoh was a god incarnate and to incline them to act more compassionately toward the Israelites.

In our time, while we may thirst for supernatural miracles that upset the order of nature as we have come to expect it, God realizes that we have already been imbued with an innate sense of wonder.  If we would merely open our eyes and appreciate the God-given beauty around us, we would recognize that miracles do still occur- in the growth of a tree, the inquisitiveness of a child, the blossoming of love.  God doesn't deliver miracles nowadays with fanfare and fireworks.  God just wants us to be grateful for the miracles we already have.

1 comment:

  1. Linda and I had this Parsha for our adult B"nai Mitzvah in 2001. Always loved it.


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